The IMPACT7 Projects
Assessing the risks of global ecosystem collapse
Lucie Bland – Research Fellow, Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin University
Our team focuses on assessing and measuring the risk of ecosystem collapse; i.e. extreme ecosystem degradation leading to dramatic consequences for biodiversity. In doing so, we aim to identify potential levers for ecosystem management and restoration.
Our project has influenced conservation practice globally and nationally. The World Union for Conservation of Nature endorsed the Red List of Ecosystems in 2014 as the official global protocol for assessing risks to ecosystems. The Australian Commonwealth and State governments have also agreed to adopt the Red List for upcoming listings of threatened ecosystems.
Tackling the leading cause of blindness
Joshua Chu-Tan – PhD Candidate, Australian National University
Our work focuses on the role of microRNA in Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. At present, there are no cures or therapies available for the most common form of this disease.
MicroRNA are small molecules that are master gene regulators and have the unique ability to control hundreds of genes concurrently, making them strong candidates for complex, multifactorial diseases. We have identified multiple microRNA that may play a role in the pathogenesis of AMD and hope that manipulating their levels can lead to positive therapeutic outcomes.
Overcoming barriers to widespread use of ethanol as fuel
Geoff Doherty – Senior Biotechnologist, Ethanol Technologies Limited (Ethtec) and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, University of Newcastle
Ethtec is a startup biofuel company developing a technology to transform agricultural and forestry residues into biofuels and green chemicals. This novel closed-loop acid-hydrolysis process can use any leftover agricultural and forestry material as feedstock. The technology will thus remove the tension between food and biofuel production that currently exists worldwide.
Furthermore, the commercialisation of this technology will add value to existing crops, diversify regional economies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by displacing the use of liquid fossil fuels, and improve air quality. Ethtec has recently received $11.9 million from the Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency, making this the Agency’s largest investment in a bioenergy project to date.
Creating market-leading wind turbine technology
Samuel Evans – Co-founder, Diffuse Energy
Diffuse Energy have developed novel wind turbine technology that can produce up to twice the power output of our competitors.
Our small-scale wind turbine is also quieter and safer than what is currently available on the market - these are key barriers for customer adoption. There is a strong need for this product in off-grid and remote locations where customers do not currently have a reliable and cost-effective source of energy.
Reducing food waste using non-plastic nano-technology packaging
Jinghua Fang – Materials Scientist, University of Technology Sydney
This project aims at improving food freshness hygienically at room temperature using novel non-plastic nano-technology packaging. Fruit and vegetable growers can suffer more than 40% post-harvest product losses due to over ripening. To reduce this unwanted ripening, we are developing a novel packaging nanomaterial that is robust, non-toxic, reusable, and scalable.
The fabricated first prototype shows it can improve banana freshness for more than 48 days at room temperature. Currently, we are also testing this research on apples, where the apple is still nice and firm more than two months later.This solution will deliver a competitive advantage to Australian fruit and vegetable growers in lucrative fresh produce domestic and export markets. It will be suitable for large-scale manufacturing production in Australia.
Blockchain for Renewable Energy
James Eggleston – Senior Analyst, Power Ledger
Power Ledger is a software company developing solutions for the energy industry. The Power Ledger Platform is an ecosystem of blockchain applications that enable energy companies or communities to create their own energy systems. Power Ledger’s leading product, peer-to-peer electricity trading, allows households that own whole energy assets to trade electricity with their neighbors and set their own prices.
Lisa-Ann Gershwin – Research Scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere
When people think of jellyfish, most think of their stings. However, jellyfish blooms (super-swarms) result in enormous losses to marine industries globally, and present an existential threat to tourism, food security, and the health of ecosystems in many regions.
My big idea is an integrated product for jellyfish bloom vulnerability based on artificial intelligence, so that early preventative actions can be taken. Current management strategies are reactive and largely ineffective; this will be the first pro-active approach. My vision is an integrated product for coastal governments and industries to clearly define and quantify their risk profile, and mitigate the exposure to emerging jellyfish hazards.
This multidisciplinary approach will analyse environmental and industrial parameters using real-time sensors and other data streams, the latest DNA technology, and artificial intelligence. Customers will be able to take preventative and corrective measures earlier, to avoid the far more costly consequences of being caught unprepared by large-scale bloom events. This Australian innovation will be exportable overseas, and could be expanded to cover other hazards such as algal blooms.
Building water sensitive cities
Katie Hammer – Project Manager, Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities
Water Sensitive City Visions and Transition Strategies is the first integrated research project undertaken by the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities that was co-developed with industry partners. The project aims to deliver a suite of tools and methods for developing strategic guidance for cities and towns wanting to transition towards their envisioned water sensitive future.
Transition strategies were developed for six cities across Australia through a participatory workshop process that provide targeted recommendations for overcoming the complex challenges associated with water sensitive transitions. The project takes an action research approach to deliver real impact in each city while also informing the development of research tools and processes.
Simply heat to electricity
Mike Hodgkinson – CEO, Capricorn Power
We harvest waste heat from sources including flare gas (e.g. landfill, waste water, food waste), solar or furnaces (e.g. green or wood waste) so that an urgent waste disposal problem can become a sustainable heat and power solution.
What sets our technology apart is that it operates at very high efficiency even at low scale, allowing us to provide containerised, on-site, sustainable energy at an affordable cost. We’re demonstrating this at Barwon Water’s waste-water treatment plant at Colac, and at Geelong Cemeteries Trust Crematorium. Our vision is to create a new, sustainable source of electricity, manufactured in Geelong and exported globally.
“It’s a bug eat bug world”
Mian Li Ooi – PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide
"It's a bug eat bug world" describes the use of bacteriophages - viruses that are natural predators of bacteria - to treat infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Bacteriophage therapy has gained significant interest recently, but its clinical application is hindered by the lack of safety and efficacy data.
Our study is the first of its kind in the world, and involved a phase 1 human clinical trial using bacteriophages as a nasal flush to treat persistently infected sinuses. We were able to show that bacteriophage therapy is safe and well-tolerated. All patients experienced reduction in infection levels (Staphylococcus aureus), with some patients showing complete eradication of the bacteria.
Disaster risk management
Senior Professor Pascal Perez – Director of the SMART Infrastructure Facility at the University of Wollongong
PetaJakarta is a research project led by the SMART Infrastructure Facility, in collaboration with the Jakarta Emergency Management Agency (BPBD DKI Jakarta) and Twitter.
The project enables Jakarta’s citizens to report the locations of flood events using Twitter, thereby contributing to a publicly-accessible real-time map of flood conditions. This data was used by BPBD DKI Jakarta to cross-validate formal reports of flooding from traditional data sources, supporting the creation of information for flood assessment response, and management in real-time.
Through its integration with BPBD DKI Jakarta’s existing disaster risk management information ecosystem, the PetaJakarta project has proven the value and utility of social media as a mega-city methodology for crowd-sourcing relevant situational information to aid in decision-making and response coordination during extreme weather events.
Decontaminating Australian soils
Dr Megan Phillips – Environmental Biologist, University of Technology Sydney
Soil contamination is a silent epidemic that causes ongoing harm to local Australian communities. Neighbourhoods developed near old industrial sites often have severe soil and water contamination, even decades after industrial activities have ceased. In a 2017 report, some homes in Sydney NSW had soil lead readings in excess of 6,000 mg per kg, which is 200 times the safe exposure limit.
The goal of this project is to test the capacities of Australian plants in decontaminating heavy metal-affected regions. In doing so, we seek to identify affordable and safe solutions for improving soil and community health.
Phytoremediation is an emerging biotechnology that applies carefully-selected plant species to decontaminate hazardous soils and water bodies over time. My research team works with land-owners, local government agencies, and industry partners to test and identify Australian plants that are effective at remediating regions impacted by heavy metal contamination.
Microfactories rescuing e-waste from landfill
Veena Sahajwalla – SMaRT@UNSW
The world’s first microfactory can transform the components from electronic waste (e-waste) items - such as discarded smart phones and laptops - into valuable materials for re-use; reducing the rapidly growing problem of vast amounts of electronic waste causing environmental harm by going into landfill.
For instance, from e-waste, computer circuit boards can be transformed into valuable metal alloys such as copper and tin while glass. Furthermore, plastic from e-devices can be converted into micro materials used for industrial grade ceramics and into plastic filaments for 3D printing.
Economical alternatives combating Ebola
Yin Xiang Setoh – Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Queensland
Ebola virus (EBOV) is a highly virulent human pathogen responsible for widespread outbreaks in Africa. From 2014-2016, an outbreak in West Africa resulted in more than 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths, of which 418 were front-line healthcare workers. Today, the outbreak of the Ebola virus is continuing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has resulted in 53 cases and 25 deaths. Tragically, 3 of the 25 deaths also involved healthcare workers.
Our team developed an Ebola virus vaccine candidate based on Kunjin replicon virus-like particles (VLPs), which contains Ebola virus glycoprotein (GP). Kunjin virus is an Australian subtype of West Nile virus, known to infect humans and horses, which is substantially less pathogenic than North American strains of West Nile virus. Immunisation with the replicon VLPs protected guinea pigs and monkeys from a lethal challenge with EBOV. In 2017, we used this vaccine to immunise horses and purified IgG antibodies from hyperimmune horse plasma. We proved that treatment of EBOV-infected nonhuman primates with this anti-EBOV equine IgG protected them from developing a lethal infection.
Horse IgGs are widely used as snake antivenom, which are accessible in third-world countries at a low cost. Their purification procedures are approved by the World Health Organisation and have been safely used by thousands of people. Thus, horse IgG provide an attractive alternative to costly monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of high-risk individuals and health professionals during EBOV outbreaks.
Oxygen storage to save lives
Bryn Sobott – Innovation and Engagement Fellow, The University of Melbourne
Our team at FREO2 Foundation Australia, a spin-out from The University of Melbourne, has developed a Low-Pressure Oxygen Storage (LPOS) system to increase access to medical oxygen in clinics with intermittent power.
Briefly, the LPOS Store is connected to a standard oxygen concentrator. Oxygen surplus to patient demand is stored in a low-cost polyethylene bag already produced at scale for the wine industry. When a power cut occurs and the oxygen concentrator powers down, oxygen automatically flows from LPOS to the patients. To date, others' attempts to meet this challenge through battery and inverter systems have been complex and prohibitively expensive.
Launching a robotic infrared telescope into space
Professor Michele Trenti – Principal Investigator, The University of Melbourne
SkyHopper is a compact but powerful space telescope concept for astronomical observations at near-infrared wavelengths from a 12U CubeSat (roughly 22x24x36 cubic cm, 24 kg). The goal of SkyHopper is to break new ground in low-cost astronomy and planetary science from space observations at wavelengths obstructed by Earth's atmosphere.
SkyHopper is expected to become a leading observatory in key areas of astrophysics. It is set to discover potentially habitable Earth-size planets around nearby cool stars, measure the unresolved infrared background radiation produced by stars and galaxies during the first billion years after the Big Bang, and identify Gamma Ray Bursts originating from the edge of the observable Universe.
The project will leverage nano-satellite technology progress; boosting Australia’s strategic engagement and international visibility in space instrumentation, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations, industry engagement, and raising public awareness of space science.
SkyHopper is currently funded for preliminary design. It is envisioned that SkyHopper will be launched by 2022, operating in low-Earth orbit. Its primary science payload will consist of a reflective telescope optimized for 0.8-1.7 micron observations with an actively cooled detector with 4 megapixel resolution. The spacecraft will have state-of-the-art reaction wheels and star trackers to achieve attitude control to a level comparable to the telescope’s angular resolution.
The SkyHopper concept was conceived in June 2015 at The University of Melbourne. In early 2018, the team joined forces with colleagues from the Australian Space Eye CubeSat to develop a unified mission concept for Australia’s first space telescope. SkyHopper now encompasses a consortium of over ten of the world’s best institutions in Australia, the United States and Europe.
Elastic ways to close wounds
Anthony S. Weiss – Founder, Elastagen
Professor Anthony (Tony) S. Weiss has pioneered research into human tropoelastin – the protein building-block that gives tissue its elasticity – and has discovered how to assemble it into synthetic elastin biomaterials that accelerate and improve the repair of scars and wounds, and a fast-acting surgical glue that seals wounds in 60 seconds.
Tony’s work over two decades has made him the world leader in the field. His patented biomaterials inventions nurtured the development of Elastagen Pty Ltd and recently led to one of the largest commercial transactions in Australian healthcare history.
Alasdair Wood – Co-Founder of MyoFab, Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, Monash University
MyoFab is a personalised muscle fabrication service for people with debilitating muscle wasting conditions, such as muscular dystrophy.
We will be using advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing and electro-spinning to build genetically corrected healthy muscle for anyone who needs new muscle synthesising. Gene editing technologies lie on the horizon and it is likely muscular dystrophy will be genetically correctable, however people with these conditions will be left with muscle that is unable to regenerate.
They will need new muscle, generated for them in the lab if they are to regain full function of their muscles. The world wide population of those affected by muscular dystrophy is estimated to be around a quarter of a million people. In global terms these diseases are rare, that does not make them any less devastating for a child who can not kick a ball around with his or her friends, or a parent who loses their child in their teens.